MANHATTAN (CN) – Slain by eight police bullets more than five years ago, immigrant Mohamed Bah had an attorney revive his memory in a federal courthouse Monday where his family has sued the NYPD officers who shot him.
“The one witness who can tell us what happened from his perspective is dead,” the Bah family’s attorney Randolph McLaughlin told a jury, urging them to imagine the dead man seated with his attorneys.
“Mr. Bah is here,” McLaughlin said. “He’s here. He speaks to us… Can you hear him?”
For roughly two weeks, a New York jury has heard radically different versions of Bah’s life and death on Sept. 25, 2012.
Bah’s family and advocates remembered him as a 28-year-old honors student, a devout Muslim, and a man struggling with clinical depression, whose life police officers tragically cut short through recklessness and misconduct.
“Mental health should not be a death sentence,” McLaughlin thundered.
New York City attorney Joshua Lax described Bah as a textbook “EDP,” using the police parlance for an emotionally disturbed person, yammering incoherently and lunging wildly at the officers with a knife.
“When Mr. Bah ripped the door open, he eliminated the barrier between himself and the officers,” Lax said.
Federal prosecutors closed their criminal investigation into NYPD Detective Edwin Mateo and several other officers in August, finding that they did not have enough evidence against them to prove misconduct beyond a reasonable doubt.
But the officers still could face civil penalties if a jury finds that any of their actions violated Bah’s constitutional rights.
According to McLaughlin, police started trampling on Bah’s rights the moment they opened his door.
“There’s no question: There was no warrant here whatsoever,” the attorney said.
It is undisputed that police arrived in response to a 911 call from mother Hawa Bah reporting her son’s mental health crisis, but from there the accounts diverge.
Bah’s mother insists that she had been expecting medical help for her son, not police presence, and she claims that her son had not had a knife or threatened the officers in any way when they shot and killed him.
As the city tells it, the NYPD officers acted with restraint and in self-defense.
“Again, this was done very methodically,” Lax said. “It was done very reasonably.”
Before they fired their guns, NYPD officers used less lethal weapons like stun guns and rubber bullets. Bah’s family contends that one of those stun-gun shots accidentally hit Detective Mateo, who mistakenly confused the sensation with being stabbed.
“He’s stabbing me,” Mateo cried out to the other officers, according to the Bah family. “Shoot him.”
Police fired 10 rounds, eight of which connected.
Mateo testified that he shot at Bah from on the ground, but McLaughlin said that the autopsy records showed the bullets took a downward trajectory.
“Science doesn’t lie,” the attorney said. “People lie, not science.”
McLaughlin added that the hail of gunfire showed poor discipline.
“Contagious firing: Once one starts to shoot, they all start to shoot,” he said.
Lax insisted that the unfired rounds in Mateo’s gun told a different story.
“He has a total of 16 rounds in his gun,” he said. “He only fires five times.”
Showing autopsy photos of Bah’s right hand, Lax gestured toward mysterious scratches and abrasions, and told them that the knife caused them.
“So, as he’s stabbing wildly at the officers, his finger slips and he gets an incision in his hand,” Lax said.
Bristling at the “pure speculation,” McLaughlin noted that no medical expert testified to the cause or timing of these wounds on the witness stand.
“He wants to stand here in the eleventh hour and make it up out of whole cloth,” McLaughlin said, referring to the city attorney. “He just wants to bamboozle you.”
Passionate and animated throughout his closing arguments, McLaughlin made a self-deprecating comparison of himself to a “TV lawyer kind of guy,” but he urged the diverse jury pool to take their time in deliberations.
He told the five women and four men to decide whether the officers had any alternative to fatally shooting Bah.
“If deadly force isn’t necessary, then it’s excessive,” he said. “It’s that simple.”
Throughout the proceedings, Bah’s mother has left the courtroom in tears whenever the attorneys spoke of the moment of her son’s death, and she did so again Monday.